On the Job: 3D Printer Helps Solve Forensic Mystery on CSI:NY14 Jan, 2005 By: Cadalyst Staff Cadalyst
The popular television series turns to the Z Corporation device to model a bullet that killed a police officer
CSI: NY, the popular CBS television crime drama about forensic investigators who use high-tech science to solve crimes in New York City, recently featured a 3D printer as one of the tools that helped solve the murder of a police officer.
The episode, titled "Officer Blue," aired December 1, 2004. Z Corporation's ZPrinter 310 System was a plot device as well as a prop to support the story line about the search for a sniper who shoots and kills an mounted NYPD officer responding to a scuffle in Central Park. The bullet passes through the officer and lodges in his horse, Officer Blue. To determine the type and origin of the bullet, investigators need to examine it. But removing the bullet is a surgical procedure that puts the horse's life in danger.
As an interim step, the investigators borrow digital data of the bullet taken from a CT scan of the horse and use it to create a model of the bullet on the 3D printer. The ZPrinter 310 System (figure 1) creates physical models directly from digital data in just hours, producing concept models and functional test parts (figures 2 and 3) quickly and inexpensively, according to the company.
Figure 1. The ZPrinter 310 System from Z Corporation was used in the CSI:NY episode "Officer Blue" to create a 3D plaster model of a bullet that killed a police officer.
Figure 2. The ZPrinter 310 uses digital data to quickly produce prototypes such as this electronics housing.
Figure 3. The ZPrinter 310 also can produce architectural models based on their digital data.
The printer can create parts for early concept evaluation and testing, painted parts for a finished look, or patterns for casting applications using plaster-, composite-, or starch-based material, depending on the application. It has a build volume of 8" X 10" X 8".
One Tool in a Bag of High-Tech Tricks
In "Officer Blue," the 3D scanning machine molds the bullet layer by layer until a blue plaster prototype emerges. It is just one piece of evidence garnered using the show's trademark high-tech tools, which in this episode also include facial recognition software that helps identify a potential suspect from video-surveillance footage taken at the park and laser 3D scene digitizing, which helps reconstruct the crime scene on computer to determine where the fatal shot originated.
According to Deb Cole, associate producer at CSI: NY, staff writers became enamored with 3D printing technology and decided to use a 3D printer for this particular episode. "We were looking for a story line for which we could use a 3D printer because the technology is just fantastic and provides strong visuals, which are an important part of the show," Cole explains. "As soon as the script we developed called for the use of the 3D printer, we contacted Z Corporation, which provided the system for use in this episode."
3D Printing Moves into Mainstream
Marina Hatsopoulos, Z Corporation chief executive officer, says that while manufacturers have traditionally used 3D printing technology for rapid prototyping purposes to support new product development, she expects mainstream applications, such as the one featured on CSI: NY, to continue to grow.
"We have always envisioned that 3D printing technology would eventually cross over into the mainstream," Hatsopoulos notes. "Unlike other engineering technologies that are primarily technical in nature and application, 3D printing holds great promise for broader market, mainstream adoption and use.
"We are excited to be a part of such a popular entertainment vehicle as CSI: NY," adds Hatsopoulos, "and expect continued development of other less traditional applications. As the 3D printing technology continues to advance, the magic of producing actual physical objects from computer models quickly and affordably will spread into other fields and endeavors that are difficult to imagine today."
3D Printer Might Reappear in Future Episode
Karen Kiffney, marketing manager at Z Corporation, says the reaction to the 3D printer technology following the December 1 airing was quite positive. "CBS executives and people on the set were amazed by the technology," she reports, and CBS is planning to keep the 3D printer for possible use in future CSI:NY episodes.
Ultimately, the investigators in the "Officer Blue" episode must examine the stria, or markings, on the actual bullet to match it to the rifle they suspect is the murder weapon. Officer Blue undergoes surgery, the bullet is extracted, and the horse survives. In the end, the evidence is irrefutable, and the detectives arrest the gunman.